Ray Tanner wore No. 1 on his back throughout most of his career as the University of South Carolina’s head baseball coach. As he makes the switch to a new uniform of coat and tie, he will be No. 1 in the school’s athletics department.
Tanner was formally announced Friday as the new athletics director. He will take over for Eric Hyman, who resigned June 29 to accept the same job at Texas A&M after spending seven years at USC.
"I think we all knew I would end up in an administrative capacity at some point," Tanner said Friday during the announcement.
Tanner, who officially starts his new role on Aug. 2, will make $675,000 per year for five years in his first contract.
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It took less than two weeks to complete the hiring process, as USC president Harris Pastides and the Board of Trustees quickly focused on Tanner. The decision came in large part due to Tanner’s unprecedented success on the field, leading the Gamecocks to a pair of national championships as well as an outgoing personality that has made him one of the most recognizable and popular figures across the state.
Tanner on Friday said he wasn't burned out or tired of baseball. However, he didn't want to pass up an opportunity for a change.
"I loved it. I was having fun," Tanner said. "But I've never been a coach who wanted to say until it was too late. I wanted to get out while it was great. I knew that I wanted an opportunity outside of baseball."
News of the impending hire was greeted positively in many circles.
College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee, who served as an assistant to Tanner at USC from 2003-08, cited the leadership skills and athletic success of his former boss.
“The main thing that stands out about Ray is his ability to communicate with people and his ability to make all of the people around him feel like they have a vital role in the success of the program,” Lee said. “Ray is really good about letting people do their jobs and making them feel important. He’s very easy to work for in that regard. He’s going to be very successful in that job.”
Tanner, 54, said on the day of Hyman’s resignation that he was committed to staying at USC for the long haul. But he also reiterated his long-held goal of moving into a high-level administration role once he decided to step away from coaching. He held previous discussions over recent years with Pastides about that possibility.
At the time of Hyman’s resignation, Pastides appointed an advisory team to make recommendations on the search process, but the search appears to never left the USC campus. Tanner’s promotion to AD also opened the door for Chad Holbrook, the associate head coach for baseball, to take over as the head coach. His promotion will be formally announced Monday.
Tanner’s promotion mirrors that of LSU’s in 2001 when the SEC school elevated long-time baseball coach Skip Bertman to the athletics director job. Bertman led the Tigers to 11 CWS appearances and five national championships before moving up to the AD, a job he held until 2008. During that period, the LSU programs experienced great success across the board, including a pair of national football championhips.
Bertman, who knows Tanner well from their time together as Team USA coaches, believes his former colleague has the ability to succeed in the new role.
“He’s a good problem solver. He’s a good motivator. Like I did, he can coach the coaches,” Bertman said. “He brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the table. He has raised money, which is an important part. He has brought people together, which is an important part. He already knows the coaches, and they already know him. The fans know him, and he’s very popular. That’s a good thing.”
Bertman said there may be some skepticism over Tanner’s lack of administrative experience, but he insists the transition can be made. Bertman heard the same criticisms about being “just a coach,” but he also put into place a seat-license programs and significant facilities upgrades.
Bertman said he envisions Tanner building a team in the athletics department just as he has done on the field for many years.
“Ray has that skill. It’s all he has ever done. Coaches bring a tremendous skill set to the AD’s position when they’re very, very successful coaches like Ray,” Bertman said. “He can do the same thing that a bank CEO could do He has something the business people don’t have. He knows what the coaches are going through. He knows what all the problems really are.”
Columbia Chamber of Commerce president Ike McLeese is convinced Tanner will be embraced as the AD by business leaders because of the energy and passion that the coach has poured into outreach efforts, including the Ray Tanner Fourndation.
“In the last 18 years here at the Chamber, I’ve never known a USC coach who goes above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen like Ray does when it comes to community involvement,” McLeese said. “People ask a lot of him, and he always seems to be willing to do it.”
He compiled a 738-316 record in 16 seasons with the Gamecocks, a mark that has included 14 NCAA tournament appearances and six College World Series appearances, including each of the last three seasons.
Prior to coming to USC, Tanner was the head baseball coach for nine seasons at his alma mater, N.C. State. His career record stands at 1,133-489 over 25 seasons with 21 NCAA tournament appearances. He also had additional duties with the Wolfpack as an assistant athletics director.
"The things I don’t know, there is a staff right here that will make sure that I do," Tanner said.
RAY TANNER BIO
.... Born: Donald Ray Tanner, Jr., March 25, 1958 in Smithfield, N.C. He grew up in Benson, N.C.
.... College Education: B. S. Recreation Resources Administration, N. C. State 1980; Masters of Public Affairs, Public Administration, N.C. State 1983
.... College Baseball: N.C. State 1977-80; played shortstop and third base
.... Coaching Career: Assistant N. C. State 1980-87; Head Coach N.C. State 1988-96; Head Coach University of South Carolina 1997-present; Assistant Team USA 1993-95-96-00; Head Coach Team USA 2003; Assistant U. S. Olympic Team 1996, 2000.
.... Wife: He is married to the former Karen Donald, a native of Charleston. A USC graduate, she was formerly head women's athletic trainer at NC State. During the summer of 1997 she served as trainer for Charlotte in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). She is the former director of athletics and director of sports medicine at Columbia College.
.... Children: Daughters, Bridgette Grace (“Gracie”) and Margaret Pearl (“Maggie”) and son, Joseph Luke (“Luke”).